Lawmaker proposes ‘Schengen area for waste’, recycling

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Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, a Dutch Liberal MEP who is drafting a resolution on resource-efficiency for the European Parliament, proposes a ‘Schengen area’ for waste that would allow all sorts of second-hand resources to be traded more freely between member states.

"It's too hard to transport waste across borders," Gerbrandy told EURACTIV in an interview.

"That's why I will be proposing a sort of 'Schengen Area for waste' to make it much easier to get your old lightbulbs to one or two places in Europe and to recycle everything that is in these lightbulbs."

Gerbrandy's draft resolution on the European Commission's resource efficiency roadmap is about more than just lightbulbs.

The resolution calls for a major overhaul of the "secondary-material market", a term used for recycled materials such as plastics, metals or paper.

But the maze of waste regulations currently in force across the 27 EU countries is a major obstacle for trade in recycled goods.

“At the moment there are so many national, regional and even local laws and rules that it's impossible for companies to transport their very valuable waste,” Gerbrandy said. “If you want to recycle certain elements, then you need economies of scale.”

Lowering the value-added tax for secondary materials is a key aspect of Gerbrandy's proposed Parliament resolution, seen by EURACTIV.

The MEP says he wants this measure in place by 2013, together with an amendment of “end-of-waste” criteria that would turn recycled products into non-waste items, allowing them to be traded freely within the EU.

“I'm focusing on getting much faster towards a circular economy that has much more re-use and recycling of materials. These are the main elements of my report,” Gerbrandy said.

Food, housing and mobility

Waste streams should be addressed separately, Gerbrandy argued, because their use are optimised differently depending on their origin – whether vegetal or mineral for example.

In his draft resolution, Gerbrandy proposes to create tasks force to address resource consumption in three key areas – food, housing and mobility. These would consist of experts from the Commission, member states, industry and civil society with the aim of devising efficiency action plans “with clear benchmarks within one year”.

This approach has already been used by the Commission, when it consults experts on new legislation, but the lack of deadlines has delayed decisions, Gerbrandy remarked, proposing to use “clear and measurable” indicators for economic activity that take account of climate change, biodiversity and resource efficiency.

Like for most measures in the roadmap, Gerbrandy set a tight deadline for the Commission and member states to put together these indicators. “We need to be very clear about what we want to reach,” he said.

Another key aspect of Gerbrandy's draft resolution is to extend the scope of the Ecodesign Directive when it comes under review in 2013. The directive, he said, should promote the reusability of products in order to increase recycling.

“We have to design our products differently, in such a way that we can recover the materials that are in it,” the MEP said.

Shifting the tax burden

A recent McKinsey report said that after a century of cheap resources, few institutions, either in the private or public sectors, have made resource productivity a priority. In a global economy characterised by greater resource scarcity, countries, companies and individuals that break with old patterns will become more competitive, the report said.

In a subheading called “transforming the economy”, Gerbrandy's draft resolution urges member states to shift the taxation burden from labour to environmental resources with the objective of reaching an average of more than 10% of public revenue by 2020.

If compensated by cuts in labour taxes, there would be no additional taxation burden on companies, the report states, saying the move will “increase competitiveness and create a level playing field”.

The resolution also proposes stronger public procurement requirements for products with “significant environmental impacts” and calls on the Commission to promote networks of “green” public procurement officers by the end of 2012.

Member states and the Commission should present concrete plans for phasing out all environmentally harmful subsidies before 2020, the report says, echoing a statement by EU finance ministers on 21 February.

“Environmental taxes, revenues from market-based instruments and removal of environmentally harmful subsidies may contribute to a wider fiscal consolidation process,” the ministers said in a statement. However, they asked for more flexibility, saying the EU should only complement member states' action, “taking into account national peculiarities”.

Pilot projects for 100% reuse

To get the process started, Gerbrandy invites the Commission to launch a number of pilot projects with the aim of reaching 100% reuse of certain materials by 2020.

Citing phosphorous as a good potential candidate, he said these projects could lead by example and receive support from the EU's regional fund.

“I want these pilots to show that we not only have to think in incremental, small steps, but that we can, if we really, really want, to obtain in a few years a circular economy in certain resources.”

“If member states want the wealth and well-being that we have now in Europe, we need to go along this path”. 

To read the interview in full, please click here.

Resource-efficiency is one of the seven flagship initiatives in the 'Europe 2020' strategy for sustainable growth and jobs, endorsed by EU heads of states in 2010.

The concept means decoupling economic growth from natural resource use – including raw materials, commodities, water, air or ecosystems.

The European Commission unveiled its Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe in September 2011, recommending the introduction of resource-efficiency indicators and targets across the 27-nation bloc.

The roadmap followed the adoption of a first policy paper in January, which established resource efficiency as the guiding principle behind EU policies in almost all sectors – energy, transport, commodities, industry, agriculture, fisheries, biodiversity and regional development.

  • 23 Feb. 2012: European Parliament publishes its Roadmap for a Resource Efficient Europe

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